Childrearing

Home Schooling: Great In Theory, But Not For Me

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What do you call a guilty pleasure that isn’t especially pleasurable? Is it even guilty if it’s not entirely gratifying? Let’s just say I feel “compelled” to read “Confessions of a Pioneer Woman,” a blog by the writer Ree Drummond.

For those of you not familiar with the Pioneer Woman, let me quickly summarize: she’s a former L.A. marketing executive who married a cattle rancher from Oklahoma, had four children, learned to cook and now makes gazillions through her just-folks blog (and books and TV appearances) about the simple life. Her sharp wit and easy style makes her up-at-dawn prairie lifestyle seem oddly covetable. But the real miracle in her writing is its ability to make her most controversial characteristic – that she home-schools her children – as palatable as the comfort food she photographs on the kitchen island.

Without (apparently) trying, Drummond debunks the popular myth of home-schooling as the domain of religious zealots or hippies or some combination of the two. Roughly 36% of home-schooled children stay at home for religious reasons and 21% for dissatisfaction with the “traditional school environment,” according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And then there’s Drummond, who seems to revel in sitting down with her kids to “do school,” as they call it. She blogs about fun with math, history, reading, art and her laminating machine. There are field trips to the pioneer village and the pool, messy science experiments, holiday parties with other families from her home-schooling network. And they occasionally play hooky to help out the ranchers in the fields. It all seems about as counter-counter-cultural as family life can get. The American Homeschooling Association couldn’t buy better advertising. [tagbox tag=”education”]

Could I do it myself? Teach five hours of lessons to four different ages while maintaining my household, daily blog and multi-million-dollar writing and TV career? I won’t dignify that with a response.

(Of course not.)

Yet the number of hits on Drummond’s dedicated home-schooling blog, and the variety of guest contributors smiling from their byline photos, suggests there are plenty of mothers out there made of stronger stuff. Consider the horrors of some public schools today: the outrageous kid-to-teacher ratios, the bullying, the dubious lunches and mingling germs. It makes sense that some parents would want more for their children.

There is very little data comparing the school results of home-schooled and public-schooled children. Yet there are memoirs from both sides. I particularly enjoyed reading a feature in last week’s New York Times Magazine by the formerly home-schooled writer Margaret Heidenry. Thirty-five years after her mother published her defence of home-schooling in the same newspaper, Heidenry remembers – with input from her older siblings – a free-spirited upbringing and democratic curriculum, at a time (the 1970s) when, as she says, “home schooling still fell under the rubric of ‘criminal truancy.’”

Ultimately, when the bills got so high that her mother was forced to find work out of the home, the children were sent to an American public school. Heidenry’s paragraphs on their first days there, depicting the loneliness of ostracism and the indignity of wearing Peruvian weaves in a denim world, are every children’s nightmare. Still, the family seems to have thrived overall, and Mrs. Heidenry, the elder, stands by her long-ago decision. “You’re all well adjusted and happy,” she said to Margaret in an interview. “And all of you are close to one another. What else could I possibly want?”

Mrs. Heidenry later commented on the piece via the New York Times’ website: “I would encourage parents to keep their children at home as long as possible because they’ll be in school long enough,” she writes. “Always take their sides and be their advocates when they do enter school; fight to limit or, even better, abolish homework; and let them play hooky every once in a while. As my Irish grandfather would say, ‘Sure, what’s the harm.’”

I’ve never thought about myself as a traditionalist. There was even a time I might have used the term “counter-cultural.” I work from home now, and I love it. But old perceptions die hard.

What are your thoughts on home-schooling? Do you know any families who practice it? Have you ever considered it? Could Ree Drummond change your mind?